I follow many people on social media: Christian writers, artists, and musicians; teachers and ministers of the Word; business gurus and more.
I follow them because they offer something that either inspires, teaches, or entertains me. When I see their posts, I can like, comment, or share with others what I have received.
In today’s social media culture, it’s easier than ever to follow someone whose teaching we appreciate and value. And we can share that tidbit of information with the click of a button.
But let’s not confuse the ease of social media following with the call to follow Christ. Many who followed Jesus did so at the cost of their very lives, but we tend to take our following a little more lightly these days.
The truth is that the call to follow Jesus is one that comes with great cost, according to Him. Our commitment to follow Jesus should look like much more than a cursory Twitter commitment.
If our idea of following Jesus requires no more of us than a retweet or a share, then perhaps we have misunderstood the true call to follow Christ according to His Word.
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
First, Jesus’ call to follow Him requires surrender.
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men,’ At once they left their nets and followed him.”Matthew 4:17-20, NIV 84
Often, we read these verses isolated from one another. We somehow picture Peter and Andrew never having heard anything about Jesus, but getting up from their boats like automatons and robotically following Jesus against their own wills.
Granted, they may not have fully understood the depth of who Jesus is, but they had heard His call to repentance when they chose to follow Him.
Laying aside their nets and therefore their careers, they made a decision to surrender the path they were following as fishermen and follow the call of Christ.
When we choose to follow Jesus, we too are coming in repentance, turning away from a life of sin and choosing to surrender the path we were on in order to follow the path He has for us.
That new path is the calling of every follower–to become disciple makers. Just as Jesus’ followers were sent out to spread the good news of His salvation, we too have been called to be on mission with God.
Second, Jesus’ call to follow Him requires sacrifice.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?'”Matthew 16:24-26
There is a cost for following Jesus. It’s easy to follow our favorite celebrities on Instagram, but following Christ requires something more of us. It’s the call to follow His Word in obedience.
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'”John 8:31-32
The word disciple means a fully devoted follower or learner. Jesus said a true follower of His is one who holds to His teachings.
The Greek word translated hold is meno which means “to stay, remain, live, dwell, abide.” It’s the same word that He used in John 15 when Jesus said we must abide in Him in order to bear fruit.
Jesus made it clear that a follower is one who obeys and lives in His Word, not just someone who continues her same lifestyle, but now with a Christian label on it.
Third, Jesus’ call to follow Him requires service.
Following Jesus meant following His example in a life of love and service to others. On the night He was betrayed, Jesus took off his outer garment, poured water in a basin, and washed His disciples’ feet.
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you.'”John 13:12- 15
If the One who created all things humbled Himself to serve others, how much more should we, mere creatures, do likewise?
If we are truly followers of Christ, we should look more like Him than like the world. And Jesus is the prime example of service and love to others.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”1 Peter 2:21
In his letter, Peter was referring to the suffering we face when we submit ourselves to authority and suffer for doing good. That suffering is promised to those who follow Christ.
But we leave no room for such things when we adopt the social media mentality of following. After all, we can simply unfollow those who disagree with us. Likewise, we can un-identify ourselves with Christ if it causes us pain.
But there’s another thing that comes with following Christ.
Jesus’ call to follow Him requires setting an example for others to follow.
“Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”1 Corinthians 11:1
Paul made an effort to follow Jesus closely because he knew many were watching. He believed in studying the Scriptures, praying, and growing in his relationship with God. He worked hard–not to earn salvation–but to live it out in a way that those watching would be encouraged to follow too.
When we make the choice to follow Jesus, we are surrendering our own selfish sin nature to live for Jesus. We are sacrificing our way of life and our own plans for those God has for us.
We are following Jesus’ example in a life of service and love to others. And we are setting an example for our children, friends, and co-workers that points to Jesus.
Aren’t you glad we have both the power to live this new life (2 Peter 1:3) and the grace to be forgiven when we fail (1 John 1:9)?
Following Jesus doesn’t mean we never mess up; but it does require something of us. It’s the radical call to lay down those things that possess us and receive from Christ more than we could ever have imagined.
“Peter said to him, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’
‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.'”Mark 10:28-30
Do you follow Jesus because you are inspired or entertained? Is it as easy as a quick like, comment, or share? Or have you decided to follow Him in radical surrender, sacrifice, and service, as the song says, with “no turning back”?
Following Jesus is much more than a shallow commitment that can be unfollowed when the going gets rough. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
His disciples followed Him because they knew He had the words of life and nothing else was worth following. They faced severe persecution and death for following Jesus because they knew He was the only way to eternal life.
When we truly follow Jesus, we commit ourselves to Him above all else. It’s not a half-hearted, cursory connection we may or may not keep in our news feed. His Word isn’t just a hashtag to search as we please.
Following Jesus is a decision to die to our old self and live a whole new life that lasts through all eternity. And that’s worth sharing.